With the bird watching and butterfly spotting seasons almost here, it's time to get your gear ready – and where better to start than with binoculars? They're essential for spotting birds and butterflies hidden in trees, and models with an ultra-close focusing function can help you to identify species you'd otherwise overlook.
Beginning the buying process can be irksome: scour the web and you'll quickly find yourself drowning in the confusing jargon used to describe binoculars. Fortunately, we've done all the heavy lifting for you to find the best binoculars for bird watching.
Breaking down the jargon
When shopping for binoculars you'll soon notice a pattern in the names of different models. Binocular names will have two numbers at the end (eg: 10 x 25 or 15 x 70). The first number is the magnification factor while the second number is the diameter of the lens in millimeters. A binocular with 10 x 25 in its name will magnify objects by 10 times through a 25 millimeter lens.
While binoculars with a higher magnification number will allow you a larger view of your image, they will typically only give you a small field of vision to work with. If you know you're going to need a wide field of view, choose binoculars with a low magnification number - you won't be able to zoom in as much, but you will be able to see more.
Now you've considered the magnification power and the size of the lens, it's time to start thinking about what type of lens will best suit you and your needs.
The majority of binoculars on the market will use glass lenses. Similar to glasses used to improve vision, glass lens binoculars will reflect light hitting it and will typically come with a coating to prevent this.
Coated optics means only some of the lens surface has been given a single-layer coating to make it anti-reflective, while fully coated means all air-to-glass surfaces have a single-layer coating. Multi-coated means one or more surfaces have anti-reflective multi-layer coatings and fully multi-coated means all air-to-glass surfaces are anti-reflective multi-layer coated.
Binoculars with glass lenses tend to have a better image quality, but they will typically cost you more than binoculars with plastic lenses. Though, plastic lenses should also be considered where durability is important, as they lenses are more hardwearing than glass ones.
Searching through the different types of binoculars can also get a little confusing, but there are just two main shape types you really need to think about.
These are "porro-prism" binoculars, which have a more traditional shape and an angled body, and "roof-prism" binoculars, which tend to be more compact and have a straight-through appearance. Roof-prism binoculars typically tend to be of a higher quality.
Prisms aside, you can also purchase miniature binoculars if you'd prefer a model that isn't quite as large and as heavy. They do have a reduced field of view, but they are much easier to hold.
You'll also want to consider size. Some binoculars are clunky and cumbersome, others are compact without diminishing qualities, so we've included some of the best small binoculars available.
Try out different models before you make your purchase to ensure you pick the right one for you. Here are five of the best to get you started...
1. Nikon Aculon A30 10x25 Binoculars : best binoculars under £100
£69.99, John Lewis
With a magnification factor of 10 times the original size, these binoculars from Nikon are great for bird watching. The multi-coated lenses and 25mm size ensure a wide viewing range and brighter images.
They are compact and lightweight - ideal for prolonged periods of use - and have a sleek, contemporary look for the fashion conscious. They also have a rubber coating for added comfort. One of the best compact binoculars around.
2. RSPB HD Binocular 8 x 42
These binoculars from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are ideal for use in settings with poor light. They're also fully waterproof and filled with nitrogen to prevent fogging.
Lightweight and comfortable to hold thanks to the textured body armour, this set also comes with a padded case and an RSPB cleaning cloth.
3. Avalon 8X32 Mini HD Binoculars
Despite being compact these binoculars from Avalon offer up impressive high definition, long distance images, ideal for both bird watching and butterfly spotting.
They have a comfortable grip and also come with a carry case and strap. They can easily fit into your jacket pocket or a handbag, and are both fog and waterproof. One of the best compact binoculars you can find.
4. Opticron DBA VHD 8x42 Binoculars
£549, Birders Store
Designed for the professional and enthusiast bird watcher, these binoculars retain the coveted 8x42 lens quality while still being compact and lighter than other models on the market.
They have a roof-prism design, textured rubber armouring for easy of use, and are waterproof up to a depth of five metres.
5. Bushnell Imageview HD 8x30
Binoculars combined with a digital camera tend to be rather hit and miss, but this model from Bushnell does the job very nicely.
Capable of taking photographs to 12 megapixels, these binoculars are a must have for bird watchers who don't want to carry around more than one piece of equipment.
Best used with a tripod to ensure for steady images.
The binoculars featured in this review will all help you when out searching for birds and butterflies, and we've included some of the best small binoculars around.
Our favourites include the RSPB HD Binocular, which is ideal to use in poor light, but comes in at a hefty £519. On the more affordable end is the Nikon Aculon A30, which is compact enough to carry around without getting too heavy.
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